Monday, September 24, 2007


I was recently introduced to the writings of Mary Carruthers. In the introduction to A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture she uses the specificity of the topic, the idea of memory in the Middle Ages, to touch on broader notions of the function of memory within culture. I like the use of the specific as a tool for looking at bigger pictures. Diana Taylor also used this mechanism nicely in The Archive and the Repertoire-Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas.

Carruthers describes the Middle Ages as a culture of the “memorial’ and contrasts that to our current understanding of memory as based in the “documentary.” This is an interesting way to look at modernity.

She sites various uses of the metaphor of memory as a wax tablet. I find this visually poetic and somehow currently relevant. The archival nature of wax (encaustic paintings endure) combined with how easilty it is transformed (just add pressure or heat) captures the elusive nature of memory.

While the introduction is wonderful, the body of the book becomes so overly specific I found it, well, dull. This is also true of one of my favorite pieces of writing- the introduction by Simon Schama to Landscape and Memory. I never could get through the book, but I have read and re-read the introduction. I would place this in a similar category.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Archive and The Repertoire

The Archive and the Repertoire-Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas, by Diana Taylor is an interesting and intriguingly problematic look how to create a body of knowledge around performance, which is inherently ephemeral. As a basis for inquiry, she looks to her personal experience and her study of "hemispheric" cultural difference. Frustrated by how Western culture defines norms, she looks at the tools of cultural studies to examine the difficulties of defining and documenting performance. The second section where she defines the archive and the repertoire is quite wonderful. The book shifts in scale from large issues to personal memory with ease. A case study of sorts, it is necessary to abstract some of the information, if you happen to be uninterested in the particular topic of examination. She provides excellent tools for looking at large picture issues.

The Archive and the Repertoire by Diana Taylor, Duke University Press.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Theory of the Derive

So, my chain of reading did not lead to my expected destination, but to The Theory of the Derive by Guy Deborg, 1958. Enjoy this wandering on wandering.